Disability, care and participation: secondary analysis of the Life Opportunities Survey and the 2009/10 Survey of Carers in Households

This project is reanalysing data from three national surveys of caring and of impairment and disability.

SPRU research team

External collaborators

  • Carers UK
  • Department for Work and Pensions

Project summary

The world is experiencing growing numbers of people living with impairments. Medical and technological advances mean that disabled babies and children are more likely to survive into adulthood, adults are more likely to survive accidents and diseases that would previously have killed them, and more people are living to old age, but often with long-term conditions and impairments. At the same time, financial constraints on governments mean that emphasis is being put on family members and friends ('carers') to provide the support that disabled and older people need to help them live independently.

The UK is lucky in having carried out a range of surveys of impairment, disability and carers since the mid-1980s that have helped policy makers understand how many people need and provide help and have provided organisations with 'ammunition' to help them campaign for change. The latest in these series of surveys - the Life Opportunities Survey and the Survey of Carers in Households - have recently become available and offer an important opportunity to explore new and emerging patterns of impairment, disability and caring.

The Life Opportunities Survey is exciting because it is the first survey to explore how the environment in which people live (housing, transport, other people's attitudes and so on) influences whether or not their impairments become disabilities.

The Survey of Carers in Households is important because it seems to show that the population of carers has changed since the mid-1980s, with more people providing care when they themselves are well into older age.


Our work will:

  • explore how patterns of impairment, disability and caring have changed over time
  • look at how disabled people and those who live with them experience barriers to participating in society
  • explore whether disabled people who live in more deprived areas or in the countryside experience different sorts and sizes of barriers from other disabled people.


We will do this by using data from the two surveys and carrying out analysis that will allow us to tease out all the different factors that might affect the experience of being disabled or being a carer.

As we do the project, we will be using senior researchers who have substantial previous experience of this sort of work to train and 'bring on' the next generation of researchers.


We have three partners in our project - SCOPE, an organisation of and for disabled people; Carers UK, an organisation of and for carers; and the Department of Work and Pensions, the English government department with lead responsibility for policy about older and disabled people. These partners will decide the detailed questions that we will explore in our work. They will also help us to bring the findings from our work to other organisations and groups who will find them helpful. Disabled people, carers, policy makers and other researchers will also advise us throughout the project.

Policy and practice aims

At the end of the project, we will write reports on the separate elements of the work, and write a four page summary, in everyday language, so that we can share our findings with as wide a range of the general public as possible. We will also write articles for professionals who work with disabled people and carers, as well as for other researchers. The final stage of our work will be a workshop where we can share our findings face-to-face with others who can use them in their work.

Additional information